We tend to think that things are worse than they have ever been. Looking around, it is easy to get discouraged by the reality of families, marriage, and love. Some examples, which I shared in a recent message:
- in the U.S., there are now more adults who are single then there are adults who are married;
- in part because we have the highest divorce rate in the Western World;
- and younger people are delaying marriage; the average age is 27 for women, and 29 for men;
- which ties in directly to the rate of cohabitation, which has increased 1000% since the 1970s;
- and so it’s no surprise that 40% of children born in the U.S. today are born to unmarried women
- all of this at the same time as marriage has been redefined in our culture.
As Jonathan Grant points out, humanity has gone through five stages of separation of sex from its foundations: separation from procreation (birth control), marriage (cohabitation), partnership (sex as temporary and recreational), another person (porn), our own bodies (questioning the very essence of male and female).
The cumulative effect of all this can be summed up, I think, by Dorothy’s famous words: Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
But while it’s true that we have gone through seismic changes in the past 50 years, it’s not as if the 21st century is the first to live through such morally ambiguous times.
One Anglican missionary, who worked among the Scots-Irish who migrated to Appalachia in early frontier America, calculated that of the marriages he performed in 1767, 94% of the brides were already pregnant.
And it’s not just in America where we’ve found ways to chart our own moral path. America, in any age, has nothing on the Greeks or the Romans. As Preston Sprinkle notes, “What we call porn, the Romans simply called life. …It wasn’t uncommon to have pictures of men having sex with boys painted on water pitchers served at the dinner table. …What I’ve seen portrayed in the Roman world makes Lady Gaga look like a nun (or a priest).”
The point: those of us who seek to live by a biblical ethic have often been in the minority. It certainly was that way when the New Testament was written, and it certainly is today. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, or angered, or defeated. Instead, our job is to live as signposts for another kingdom. Our calling is to demonstrate, through self- and sexual-restraint, that there is another way to live: a way that is transformed, and is being transformed, by the power of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The truth is: it’s not very sexy (literally) to live as a counter-culture. But it’s probably the only hope we have to be who we are called to be; and it just might be the way those who are tired of the world’s Moral Merry-Go-Round, find that there is a way off. Not by our moral grandstanding, but by our humble demonstration of a love that is surely not of this world.